Athletes and bodybuilders supplement with creatine for its potential to increase strength, power, and lean mass. However, some media reports have painted creatine as a potential dangerous and toxic chemical that may cause side effects ranging from GI issues to liver and kidney failure.
WHAT IS IT
Creatine is a molecule that occurs naturally throughout the human body and in various foods. It is composed of two amino acids, glycine and arginine. Humans can manufacture creatine in addition to getting it through foods such as meat, eggs, and fish. The primary role of creatine is to provide immediate energy to cells. Within your muscles a substance called ATP is required for any movement to occur. Think of ATP as gasoline in a car, without it you can’t move the car. Without ATP your body would not be able to move. When ATP is used within the muscle it loses its ability to be used as energy unless it’s recharged. It can be recharged by proteins, fats, and carbohydrates but these processes take a long time relative to creatine. For this reason creatine can improve the body’s ability to rapidly replenish energy stores between bouts of high intensity activity. Creatine has been shown in multiple studies to allow intermittent type athletes (soccer, basketball, football) to recover faster between sprints when rest times are under 60 seconds.
CLAIMS VS RESEARCH
o Claim: Increased strength and power output in approximately 75% of the population.
o Research: Creatine does in fact increase strength and power (speed-strength). An 8 week study comparing bench press and squat strength found a 78% greater increase in absolute strength in the creatine group vs. the controlled group. Another study found an increase in peak velocity by 33.4% and reduction in the time to reach peak velocity by 54.7%.
o Claim: Increase in lean mass.
o Research: Creatine has been shown to increase lean mass. Some of this lean mass gain comes from increased water retention within the muscle cells. This increase in water within the muscle cells may reduce muscle damage and stimulate muscle growth
o Claim: Kidney and liver damage.
o Research: No beneficial or negative influence has ever been noted in healthy humans. Researchers have looked into all markers of kidney and liver stress; none are elevated during acute or chronic creatine use.
o Claim: Gastrointestinal Stress.
o Research: Stomach cramping and diarrhea are possible at inappropriate doses.
o Claim: Dehydration.
o Research: Creatine increases fluid retention within the muscle. However, this will not lead to dehydration if normal amounts of fluid are consumed. Some studies even suggest that creatine will not exacerbate dehydration that is present before creatine use.
HOW TO TAKE IT
5 grams per day is the general consensus. Some recommendations include a loading period of 5 days at 20 grams. This loading period may expedite gains in strength, power, and lean mass however, it is not necessary.
Creatine is an extremely safe and effective supplement. Over 700 research studies have shown that creatine increases athletic performance via increases in power output and gains in lean mass. No studies to date have shown any deleterious side effects in healthy populations.